Why Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell Decided to Stay with CBS This Morning

By A.J. Katz 

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January 9, 2017 felt a lot like January 9, 2012 for Gayle King, right down to that bold yellow dress.

A half decade after being a part of the relaunch of CBS’s morning news show, King was back at the table this morning, along with Charlie Rose and Norah O’Donnell, to celebrate the show’s 5th anniversary.

“People love coming on our program,” King told TVNewser during a set visit this morning. “We haven’t had a single guest who has walked out of here and said ‘God, that was a horrible experience.’ But we are very thorough, and now we are getting more news makers who say that they want to come to us first before going on other shows. That makes for interesting conversations and very compelling television.”

While this morning’s episode was extra-ordinary for its date, it followed that simple formula that has proven successful: No-nonsense, original reporting along with in-depth interviews, delivered in an upbeat atmosphere.

CTM executive producer Ryan Kadro believes that word of mouth has been a key to the show’s growth. CBS This Morning has added 1 million viewers over the last 5 years while NBC’s Today show and ABC’s Good Morning America have lost viewers.

“There’s a consistency to our show every morning,” Kadro told us. “You know what you’re going to get, and I think the audience has picked up on that. There is a chemistry at the table, along with great journalism and storytelling, the latter you aren’t always able to find on morning television, especially after a certain hour.”

CTM also just posted the network’s best Q4 morning news audience in 29 years, and is in its closest competitive position with NBC’s Today in years. “I remember when the numbers would come out, and we were barely recognized. It’s very gratifying to see the change,” said King, adding, “As we sit here on our 5th anniversary, no one is resting on laurels thinking, ‘Oh, the numbers are great and we can continue doing what we’re doing.’ We still know we have more work to do.”

As he laced up his tennis shoes, heading out for an interview for his PBS show, (parts of which will also air Tuesday on CTM) Rose told us there are three reasons for the show’s success: “The chemistry among the people in front of the camera and behind the camera, coupled with strong support from Les Moonves and everyone throughout the CBS organization. Two: A commitment to news. Three: A respect for content and quality storytelling. Those are the three things that come together on the perfect set to do this.”

CBS This Morning: Celebrating its fifth year on the air at Studio 57 in New York, New York on Monday 1/9/2017. CBS Photo by John Paul Filo ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

CBS This Morning: Celebrating its fifth year on the air at Studio 57 in New York, New York on Monday 1/9/2017. CBS Photo by John Paul Filo

O’Donnell cited the startup feel of the show. “The entrepreneurial spirit of the program really unleashed the creativity of the entire team from the beginning, from the producers to the APs, to the graphic artists,” said O’Donnell. “There was no playbook. We were able to create our own playbook, and that was incredibly exciting.”

O’Donnell is very optimistic for 2017, and feels the show can play an important role in the general discourse across the TV news landscape.

“I believe that 2017 is our year,” she said. “We have an inauguration coming up and a new administration about to take over. Our show is uniquely positioned to cover that transition because we focus so much on the news. Viewers are flocking to where they know they can find a serious news source, and I think that’s going to drive our success in 2017.”

“We want to make this the best show in morning television,” proclaimed O’Donnell.

Trust in the mainstream news media is not exactly strong these days. The President-elect and many of his supporters often refer to the mainstream media as ‘crooked.’ “When I hear the word ‘crooked,’ I do not think that folks are talking about us,” said King. “From CBS Sunday Morning, to 60 Minutes, to us, to CBS Evening News, I think we pride ourselves on original reporting and great storytelling.”

“The good news for us is that we can just keep doing what we’re doing, and we have not been the focus of any attacks,” said O’Donnell. “I think it’s important for us to continue to be objective and to report with integrity, and I believe that is part of why our show has been successful.”

O’Donnell originally thought she would stay with CBS This Morning for a year, maybe two, before heading home to Washington. Her immediate chemistry with Rose and King changed that. “We immediately clicked, which is a rare thing in life. We have a mutual respect for one another and we get along on air with one another, and that has really driven the show.”

King, who recently signed a 3-year deal to remain on the program, says that’s why she stayed: “I like the job, and I like the people. I thought about doing other things, and I could have done other things, but at the end of the day, I really like what I’m doing.”